Cairn of Barnenez


This is the largest mausoleum in Europe.

The cairn lies on a hill on the Kernéhélen peninsula, looking out to the north onto the Bay of Morlaix.

The cairn was built between 4,500 and 3,900 BC, measures 75 metres long by 28 meters wide, and consists of 11 burial chambers, each reached by its own short passage. There are in fact two monuments dating from different phases of construction.

The first cairn is trapezoidal in shape and comprises 5 passage graves which are not open to visitors. It is built from many small blocks of a local stone called dolerite, which give it a darker colour than its neighbour.

The impressive front lies on the southwest and provides a monumental main entrance. The largest dolmen stands in the middle and is flanked by two small openings on each side. This demonstrates one of the main principles of classical architecture: symmetry.

The second cairn contains 6 graves. It was clearly built a few centuries later than its neighbour and is roughly twice as big

The frontage is designed as a sort of front portal from which all of the entrances to the graves can be seen. The passages lie parallel to each other and vary in length from 5 to 14 metres. Each one leads to a relatively small space which is either round or angular.

Most of the graves display an impressive type of workmanship known as corbelling, by which flat stones can be used to construct a solid and stable roof. Another feature are the floor tiles, some of which have highly symbolic decoration. These engraved symbols occur in several of the chambers and passages. They depict bows, axes, wave symbols or snakes and a repeated U-shaped sign.

One symbol described as “an idol with a radiating hairstyle” may be a representation of an important goddess, perhaps of fertility or death. The repeated “U“ symbol represents the horns of cattle, symbol of a bull deity.

The “zigzags” are interpreted either as a symbol for water or a snake, an animal which has a number of symbolic meanings. The “bow” may represent a hunting weapon.

Text                             Alda Lesschen

Translation                 Alun Harvey


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